Some may have questioned Roger Penske and Tim Cindric when they hired AJ Allmendinger to drive the No 22 Dodge for this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign.
After all, the Dinger had run mid- to back-pack for much of his Cup career, learning from the arena of "have-nots" what it takes to be a NASCAR driver.
Allmendinger left a sprouting open wheel career behind to tackle stock car racing in 2007 and, over the past year or two his efforts have started to spring results.
Penske Racing selected the 30-year-old from Los Gatos, California shortly after dismissing 2004 Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch for avoidable mental lapses.
The 2012 season started well for Allmendinger, who teamed with Michael Shank Racing--and former Champ Car teammate Justin Wilson--to win the Rolex 24 at Daytona in a Ford/Riley. Interestingly, the motive power choice for Penske Racing next year is Ford.
The 2012 Sprint Cup campaign has seen a resurgence in confidence for Allmendinger, who now has the equipment to match his obvious talent. He scored a second place result on the tough Martinsville oval last month, marking his third consecutive top-15 result in NASCAR's premier series; he's currently 19th in points after finishing last year 15th overall.
Today Allmendinger earned his second NASCAR Sprint Cup pole position (the first was at Phoenix in 2010 when he was racing for Richard Petty Motorsports) on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway oval, with a fast lap of 175.993 mph. Allmendinger had to wait and watch those behind him in the queue before he knew he'd iced the deal - and he'll tell you he's got little patience for anything of that nature.
“I put so much pressure on my shoulders to perform--this group is used to winning poles and races, so I really want to perform at that level,” Allmendinger revealed. “This is great, but we all know that Sunday is the important day and we’ve got to have 400 good miles tomorrow. But more than anything, this is a great way for us to keep building momentum.
"I’m so happy to be a part of this Penske Racing organization and we know the bigger picture is tomorrow, and that Sunday is the important day.” Allmendinger scored his first Sprint Cup top-10 result on this Kansas track--which is going to be repaved following Sunday's STP 400-mile contest--during the 2008 season, his first full year in the series (with Red Bull Racing).
For this second STP 400 temperatures will be about 20 degrees cooler than they were last year when the race was held in June. "The cooler conditions have made for faster speeds," according to Howard Comstock, SRT Motorsports engineering chief. "Faster speeds mean worse fuel economy so everybody will have to take that into consideration for tomorrow's race. We have no history here with fuel injection," he noted, "and there are a lot of factors playing into the crew chief's choice of when we're going to see pit stops. Pit strategy will certainly be a key."
The key for Allmendinger's No. 22 AAA Dodge Charger will be to stay ahead of the competition. His front row mate is Kevin Harvick, driving the No. 29 Rheem Chevy from Richard Childress Racing. Joey Logano, who was the first driver to qualify and ended up third, moves to the rear with an engine change, making the balance of the top 10 Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Toyota), Mark Martin (No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota), Martin Truex Jr (NAPA Auto Parts Toyota), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevy), Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota), Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy, Sam Hornish Jr (making his first Cup start of the year) in Penske's No. 12 SKF Dodge and the third Penske Racing Dodge of Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite).
While the No. 16 3M Ford of Greg Biffle leads the championship, neither he nor any of the other Ford runners could crack the top-10 in qualifying today and are mired in mid-pack, as are five-time champ Jimmie Johnson and teammate Jeff Gordon, who tweeted: "Do u think I can talk @NASCAR into letting me hire a qualifying driver?"
The better tweet came from Mario Andretti: "Well done @AJDinger pole @kansasspeedway @ NASCAR. Another big talent #openwheel let get away." Amen, Mario.